France announces first death of coronavirus patient outside Asia

Travelers in Beijing.
Travelers outside the Beijing train station on Saturday.
(Associated Press)

France on Saturday reported the first death outside Asia of a person infected with the new coronavirus from China, an 80-year-old Chinese tourist whom two French hospitals initially turned away, and also reported a new confirmed case that brought the country’s total to 12.

Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said she learned Friday night about the death of the patient, a man who tested positive for the virus in late January and had been isolated in intensive care at a Paris hospital.

The patient, who was from Hubei province in central China, which has been hardest hit by the coronavirus, had a serious lung infection. All the previous deaths outside mainland China from COVID-19, the disease the virus causes, were in Asia: one each in Japan, the Philippines and Hong Kong.


The Health Ministry announced Saturday night that France’s latest case is a British person who, like five other infected Britons, had stayed in an Alpine chalet with an English businessman who had attended a conference in Singapore. The ministry said the new patient had been tested daily while in isolation at a Lyon hospital before testing positive Saturday.

There were contradicting reports about the timing of when the Chinese tourist who died in France became ill and started to receive treatment. Buzyn said he arrived in France on Jan. 16 and was hospitalized on Jan. 25 under strict isolation measures, but his condition deteriorated rapidly.

Other French medical officials had said previously that the patient arrived in France on Jan. 23 and quickly fell ill.

Dr. Yazdan Yazdanpanah, head of the infectious disease department at Bichat Claude Bernard Hospital in Paris, said the man visited two French hospitals. Because he “didn’t fulfill the definition” of someone considered at risk of infection with the virus, the hospitals decided it was unnecessary to test him, Yazdanpanah said.

The man did not live in Wuhan, the Hubei capital at the epicenter of the outbreak, but elsewhere in the province. He later tested positive and was put in isolation at Bichat hospital on Jan. 28, Yazdanpanah said.

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The man’s daughter also tested positive for the virus and was admitted to Bichat hospital for treatment, but is doing well and should be able to leave soon, Buzyn said.

As of Saturday, four of France’s 12 confirmed coronavirus cases involved patients since declared cured and released from the hospital, including a French doctor who was allowed to go home Friday, Buzyn said. Seven others remained hospitalized.

Buzyn said she had no news about a French person who was among the 285 people from a cruise ship near Tokyo who tested positive for the virus and was hospitalized in Japan. Three other French are on the ship, which is in quarantine in Yokohama.

Germany’s DPA news agency reported Saturday that two infected passengers on the quarantined Diamond Princess are German citizens, according to the German Embassy in Tokyo.

In all, 46 patients from nine European countries have had confirmed cases of the virus since it emerged in Wuhan in December, with Germany having the most at 16.

The new coronavirus has infected more than 69,000 people globally and has killed at least 1,666, the vast majority in China. The World Health Organization has called the virus a threat to global health.


Chinese authorities have placed some 60 million people under a strict lockdown, built emergency hospitals and instituted controls across the country to fight the spread of the virus. Restaurants, cinemas and other businesses have been closed nationwide, and sports and cultural events have been canceled to prevent crowds from gathering.

In Munich on Saturday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told a gathering of the world’s top defense officials and diplomats that his country was “determined to fight and win this battle” against the virus, and suggested that its efforts were paying off.

“Dawn is breaking and we are seeing light coming through,” Wang said.

He said the epidemic had presented a “severe challenge” to China’s economy growth but said it was well positioned to rebound.

“The fundamentals sustaining strong economic growth have not changed, and will not change,” he said. “After the storm comes the rainbow, and we are confident that China will emerge stronger from the epidemic.”

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said all Italians who sought repatriation from Wuhan due to the coronavirus have returned to Italy. The last was a 17-year-old student who arrived on a military flight early Saturday after being twice refused passage because of a fever. The teen has tested negative for the virus and will now spend two weeks in quarantine at a military facility near Rome.